Opinion by Kathleen Oropeza, Tallahassee Democrat
With just days left in the 2015 Florida legislative session, it’s clear that citizens are not being served. Legislators are locked in an embarrassing health care battle they knew was coming for over a year. Things have ground to a halt and bills are dying on the vine.
Politicians who were assigned education reform bills last summer by powerful lobbyists are in a panic. They know full well that these ideas are hostile to public education and there’s no time to artfully conceal them in other bills.
There are at least 18 reform concepts dangling out there. They include destroying the Florida High School Athletics Association by turning student athletes into free agents, allowing students to “open enroll” across district lines, requiring districts to show borrowed money as revenue in capital outlay accounts to justify handing over even more tax dollars to for-profit charters and forcing districts to share voter-approved millage increases with charter chains so they can pay for and improve buildings the public may never own.
Desperate to keep these reforms alive, former Senate president Gaetz and Sen. Negron, a presidential hopeful, stuffed every single bill into SB 948 at an Appropriations Committee stop, making it ready for the Senate floor. It’s hard to imagine Sen. Lee, chairman of Appropriations, ever allowing something similar when he was Senate president.
In response, the House is packing HB 1145 with their “must carry/must pass” school reform assignments. SB 948 doesn’t match, which will lead to further squabbles. The entire enterprise is forced and awkward.
The reformers, vendors and choice investors driving these laws know that public education cannot be privatized all at once. Taking down something as noble as public education requires disciplined patience. The reforms found in HB 1145 and SB 948 will contribute greatly toward privatization.
Leaders who force passage of giant bills filled with ideas that could not stand on their own mock the legislative process. Florida public education is under attack from those who will not rest until every penny of the $19 billion dollars Florida budgets per year for public education is transferred to private hands. Lawmakers who knock each other over to please reform lobbyists are letting us down.
Parents, teachers and districts realize the toxic nature of education reform and are pushing back to protect our children and preserve our public schools. The outrage is growing. What we really want are leaders in the House and Senate who are there to serve us and no one else.